Are you thinking about visiting upstate New York this year? Here are some of the most scenic, historic, unique, and all-around best places to visit in upstate New York. These one-of-a-kind attractions in upstate NY are sure to make for an unforgettable vacation experience.
Upstate New York is nothing like New York City. It’s safe to say that traveling from the city to the upper state New York area feels almost like entering another dimension. The dense traffic, urban architecture, and non-stop noise are replaced with a pleasant, welcoming ambiance as you are greeted by the placid woodland country. The vast natural beauty of New York state unfolds itself through its lovely little towns and scenic forests. The towering hotels are replaced by rustic New York State cabin and treehouse rentals.
Even today, a lot of upstate NY remains largely unexplored by tourists, who aren’t even aware of the hidden gems waiting in their own backyard. The truth is that there are several stunningly beautiful places tucked all across upstate New York. Below are a few places that highlight the fun and beauty of the upper state New York region.
Top 10 Places to Go in Upstate New York: Hidden Gems + Attractions
Are you a lone traveler looking to enjoy some peace and quiet away from the hustle and bustle of daily life? Are you part of a group of family or friends seeking fun and adventure? Either way, upstate New York has plenty to offer. In the list below, you’ll find everything from sleepy towns and placid natural landscapes to thrilling outdoor activities. There are so many unique entertainment options, including a spooky setting straight out of a classic American ghost story.
Upstate New York may lack the urban chic of NYC, but it more than makes up for it with homey charm, friendly locals, and stunning scenery. All this and more make the area one of the best hidden vacation spots in America. I hope this list of some of my favorite things to do in upstate NY inspires you to visit.
1. Cold Spring
Situated in Putnam County, Cold Spring is not that far from NYC. In fact, it’s only an hour away, which makes it a convenient stop-over destination if you’re traveling to or from the city.
The first thing you’ll probably notice about Cold Spring is how serene and picturesque this small town is. It’s been that way for a long, as evidenced by the family-owned markets and 19th-century architecture that has earned Cold Spring a spot on the National Register of Historic Places.
There are a number of wonderful little shops and restaurants here as well as picnic and sightseeing spots in Cold Spring. Opportunities for hiking, golfing, biking, boating, and kayaking abound. Visit the Hudson Highlands for a stunning river view. Or you can explore famous landmarks like Bull Hill, Pollepel Island, Breakneck Ridge Trail, West Point Foundry, and Boscobel House and Gardens.
Feel like working up a sweat? The Storm King State Park climb goes all the way to Beacon Mountain, which is the highest peak in the Hudson Highlands. If you prefer to exercise your mind, the Hudson Highlands Nature Museum and the Putnam History Museum are also worth your time. The sheer variety of options is more than enough to make Cold Spring one of the best places to visit in upstate NY.
This eccentric town in upstate New York was put on the map in 1969 when it served as the host and namesake for the most famous music festival in entertainment history. Since then, Woodstock has become something of a mecca for rock ‘n’ roll aficionados. Many of the locals are also proud of their home’s artistic heritage, decorating their properties with memorabilia and tributes to the bygone age.
Hippie nostalgia isn’t the only thing Woodstock has to offer, though. It’s also home to some of the most interesting and unique of New York’s upstate attractions. For example, where else would you ever expect to find a genuine Tibetan Buddhist monastery like Karma Triyana Dharmachakra? Here you can meditate, learn more about Buddhism, or just marvel at the ornate artwork and architecture.
After you’re finished becoming one with the universe, enjoy a mile-long hike along the gorgeous Kaaterskill Falls. Alternatively, take in a live show at the beloved Bearsville Theater. Don’t forget to stop by the Mower’s Saturday Market on the weekend to hunt for handmade crafts and vintage goodies. After all that, rest up at the luxurious Glo Spa, where you can enjoy a relaxing massage, or stop at Sunfrost Farms for some tasty refreshments.
3. Watkins Glen State Park
Situated at 1009 N. Franklin St. in Watkin Glens, Watkins Glen State Park is easily among the most popular places to visit in New York’s upstate area. The park gets pretty jam-packed with tourists, particularly during the summer, and it’s not hard to see why.
At Watkins Glen, visitors can enjoy a scenic stroll alongside the crystal-clear waters of Glen Creek. Here, you’ll view phenomenal cliffs reaching up to 200 feet in height as well as almost 20 different waterfalls. Of these, make sure you keep an eye out for the impressive Cavern Cascade. Trust me when I say it’s an unforgettable sight.
During certain times of the year, visitors can take a shuttle from one side of Watkins Glen Gorge canyon to the other. Explore the park’s natural beauty from the safety and comfort of a sleek modern transport.
Still, for experienced hikers, there’s nothing quite like roughing up the steep hiking trail that spiderwebs across the landscape. Make sure to bring your walking boots, because you’ll definitely be getting a workout.
Widely known as the “Gem of the Finger Lakes,” Skaneateles is a postcard-perfect town. It’s located in the heart of upstate New York, just four hours from New York City. However, it might as well be a whole other planet, as evidenced by its tranquil ambiance and its proximity to the placid blue waters of Skaneateles Lake.
Skaneateles Lake is itself a famous tourist hotspot, thanks to its quiet splendor and ample camping, boating, and fishing opportunities. Those who love the great outdoors will also want to check out nearby Carpenter Falls, Emerson Park, Baltimore Woods Nature Center, Erie Canal Park, and the Bahar Preserve.
Treat your senses to a fragrant tour of the Lockwood Lavender Farm. Savor a tasting at Anyela’s Vineyards (famous for its exquisite Finger Lakes wine). Or, pend an afternoon observing the incredible collection of painting at the John D. Barrow Art Gallery. However you’re looking to spend your vacation, Skaneateles is one NY upstate attraction that’s sure to please.
5. Letchworth State Park
Over the years, Letchworth State Park has earned itself the nickname “Grand Canyon of the East.” And just like the “other” Grand Canyon, it’s something that has to be seen to be believed. Letchworth Park is one of my personal favorite places to visit in upstate New York. Ultimately, I predict it will be one of yours, too.
The park is over 14,000 acres in size and 17 miles in length. It follows the course of the Genesee River through a deep gorge and three equally breathtaking waterfalls. What’s more, these waterfalls are perfectly positioned to catch the sunshine, making colorful rainbows a common sight. Don’t forget to bring your camera in order to snag some souvenir snapshots.
Adventure enthusiasts can experience the Genesee River up close and personal by taking a kayak ride along its rushing waters. Or you can get an aerial view of the entire park while riding in a hot air balloon. Letchworth State Park is awe-inspiring from any angle!
Famous for having more than 100 waterfalls within ten miles of its downtown area, the city of Ithaca is one of the most striking places to visit in upstate New York. But natural beauty isn’t all this top-notch vacation destination has to offer. It’s also renowned for its vibrant local culture and historic importance.
A number of important figures from US history left their mark on Ithaca, as evidenced by such enriching tourist attractions as the Harriet Tubman Home, the John Johnston House, and the Phelps Mansion Museum, among others. If you don’t feel like taking a step into the past, though, why not take one towards the future at The Sciencenter, which features a walkable scale model of the solar system?
Feeling famished? Sample some homemade candy apples, donuts, and other goodies at one of the local orchards and cideries, such as South Hill Cider and The New York Cider Company. Or try one of the many, many bars and restaurants catering to students at nearby Cornell University and Ithaca College.
One attraction you absolutely cannot skip is Cayuga Lake. Ithaca sits on the southern shore of this 435-feet-deep glacial lake, the longest in all the Finger Lakes region. Folklore suggests that the picturesque lake is “Old Greeny,” a Loch Ness-esque sea monster. Will you be the one to uncover Cayuga’s mysteries?
7. Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum
If baseball really is the quintessential American pastime, then there’s no doubt that the Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum makes the city of Cooperstown one of the most important places to visit in upstate New York, especially if you’re a sports fan.
Founded in 1939, the Hall of Fame commemorates the achievements of over 300 of the greatest baseball players in the world. Countless priceless items of memorabilia are on display in the three-floor museum, which includes interactive exhibits and a veritable mountain of baseball history and trivia.
Items in the museum collection include more than 40,000 artifacts and more than 140,000 baseball cards. It’s no wonder that the Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum attracts an estimated 260,000 every year. Take note that it is open every day of the year with the exception of Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s Day.
8. Lake Placid
Tucked away in the Adirondack Mountains, the peaceful village of Lake Placid truly lives to its name. If you’re looking to unwind and forget your stresses for a few days, you would be hard-pressed to find any better places to visit in upstate New York.
Sharing its name with the 2,170-acre body of water that it borders, Lake Placid still has 19th-century architecture from its days as an iron-mining town. These generations-old structures are not only visually stunning, but also communicate a sense of tradition and easygoing friendliness that many tourists find soothing.
Peace and quiet not quite your scene? That’s okay; adventure seekers will find plenty to love here, too. After all, Lake Placid is one of the premier winter sports destinations in the entire United States. In addition to hosting the 1932 and 1980 Winter Olympics, it has also been the site of the 2000 Goodwill Games and the 1972 Winter Universiade.
Nearby Whiteface Mountain is the fifth tallest mountain in the state of New York, making it a veritable catnip for skiers and snowboarders. The area is also home to one of only 16 bobsled runs in the country. No matter what kind of winter sports you’re into, Lake Placid is the perfect place for you.
9. Sleepy Hollow
Depending on what time of year you find yourself exploring the East Coast, you may be particularly well-served by taking a detour in the direction of Sleepy Hollow. Yes, the same town that inspired the famous ghost story “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow” by Washington Irving.
During the fall season, as Halloween approaches, Sleepy Hollow takes on a vaguely mystical ambiance. This is bolstered by the region’s naturally lush and colorful foliage. Take a break from trick-or-treating to visit the historic Sleepy Hollow Cemetery. Or visit the Headless Horseman Monument, which pays tribute to the town’s ghostly homegrown celebrity.
You don’t have to be in a spooky mood to have a good time in Sleepy Hollow, mind you. There are plenty of other upstate New York attractions worth checking out. Take Kykuit, the opulent estate of American business icon John D. Rockefeller, for instance. This property boasts meticulously maintained terrace gardens, an extensive sculpture gallery, several stone fountains, and even a massive on-site golf course.
Alternatively, you can ride in a carriage or on horseback at the 1,700-acre Rockefeller State Park Preserve. Satisfy your sweet tooth at nearby Rockland Bakery, marvel at the architecture of the Union Church of Pocantico Hills, or kick back and get a tan at Nyack Beach. The possibilities are endless.
10. Lake George
With a population of just over 3,000 people, the town of Lake George, New York is one of the quietest, most laidback areas in the entire Northeast. Nevertheless, if you’re looking for cool things to do in upstate New York, you’ll find more fun here than you’d expect.
Nestled in the heart of the Adirondack Mountains, Lake George is just 30 minutes north of Saratoga Springs. The whole area is surrounded by dense old-growth forests and majestic peaks.
Almost as old as the region’s natural features is the Fort William Henry Museum and Restoration site. Built by British colonists in 1775, the fort was famously seen in the Oscar-winning film “The Last of the Mohicans.” That makes this an alluring tourist spot for both history and movie buffs.
Other Lake George highlights include the Adirondack Winery, the Magic Forest amusement park, the House of Frankenstein Wax Museum, and Million Dollar Beach. From tasty adult beverages to scary monsters to fun in the sun, Lake George has it all.
Experience the Sights and Sounds of the Northeastern US
Upstate NY is overshadowed by the urban playground that is New York City. The above-listed places to visit in upstate NY are secretly among the most interesting, relaxing, and thrilling destinations in the Northeastern US. Better yet, are plenty of cozy cottages, lake houses, and log cabins for rent in the area. That makes it easy to vacation in comfort and style.
Upstate New York is just one of the many hidden gems in the Eastern US. These vacation spots may not be the most famous, but they offer just as much fun and adventure as any tourist staple, with the added benefit of small crowds and lower costs. Don’t take my word for it; see for yourself!
Check out more of my favorite travel destinations in the blog posts below!